US returns missing sculptures to India

NEW YORK - The United States (US) returned to India on Tuesday three ancient sculptures that had fallen into the hands of traffickers, following a month of tense ties triggered by the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.

Relations between India and the US were strained last month after authorities arrested Ms Devyani Khobragade, a New York consular official, over treatment of her domestic servant.

In a deal between the two countries, Ms Khobragade was allowed to return to India last week just as a grand jury indicted her on two counts.

India's consul general in New York, Mr Dnyaneshwar Mulay, refused to acknowledge any link between the issues.

But he expressed deep gratitude to US authorities for the return of the sculptures and hailed what he called strong bilateral ties.

Mr James Dinkins, executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations, also thanked India for its "excellent cooperation".

"The excellent international cooperation between the United States and India led to the recovery and return of these priceless antiquities," Mr Dinkins said.

"The pilfering of a nation's cultural patrimony cannot and will not be tolerated."

The sandstone sculptures, dating from the 11th or 12th century, are worth an estimated US$1.5 million (S$1.9 million), had been offered for sale in the US, officials said.